That Kim Davis, the clerk in Kentucky’s Rowan County, still refuses to issue same-sex couples marriage licenses is unacceptable but not particularly surprising. What’s remarkable and reassuring is how rare her sort of protest has been.

There were reasons to fear a wider backlash to the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling legalizing same-sex marriage. Texas legislators were poised to instruct state officials not to comply. The state’s attorney general issued guidance that seemed to absolve county clerks of their legal responsibilities. Roy Moore, Alabama’s top judge, and Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, a Republican, also encouraged dissent among officials in their states.

But, according to the gay rights group Freedom to Marry, no official in Texas or Louisiana is refusing to issue same-sex marriage licenses, and even in Alabama, the state with the most dissenting officials, the vast majority are complying. Respect for the law seems to have combined with rapidly evolving public opinion to deflate opposition. It turns out to be difficult to root against love and commitment.

Even so, Davis’s story shows that problems remain. The protesting clerk has a hearing in federal court today, at which she could be found in contempt of court and fined or placed in jail. We hope she won’t let it come to that.

Davis cites “God’s authority” in rejecting marriage applications. But within the confines of the county clerk’s office, there is only one relevant authority: the civil laws of the commonwealth of Kentucky and of the United States of America. Her job is to certify that two people have met the legal requirements to marry. If Davis feels she cannot do so in good conscience, she should resign.

There is some talk of a compromise for objecting clerks such as Davis, perhaps allowing others to fill in for them when it comes to certifying marriages or removing clerks’ names from marriage licenses. Those are bad ideas. Such work-arounds could make it more difficult for couples to obtain marriage licenses in some parts of the country.

But even if practical barriers didn’t emerge, the compromise would violate an essential principle on which government depends. Soldiers must fight wars they may disapprove of. Lawyers who choose to work at the Justice Department must apply and defend laws they wish had not been enacted. These officials may harbor concerns no less deeply rooted than Davis’s. Yet society cannot function if every public official is allowed a law unto himself or herself.

Davis argues that she has “done my job well,” so she shouldn’t have to resign. But if she refuses to perform a basic function, she isn’t doing her job at all.

Editorial by The Washington Post

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